Probably the most important part next to tickets. Or maybe even more important...hard to say.
Either way, packing is SUPER important. You want to have what you're going to need & what you're going to want while your mid-adventure. Sometimes it's hard to figure out exactly what you will need or want, but that comes with experience and I have learned the hard way.
I'll tell you my story. How I learned to figure out what I need and more importantly what I don't need.
At the end of 2012 I embarked on my first big adventure, my biggest so far, actually. I had two huge suitcases filled to the brims, a small carry on suitcase, AND a backpack. WOW. So a quick backstory, I was leaving to go to France to be an au pair, my plan was to be there for at least 6 months, probably a year. So I was going to be gone for a long time... that was my justification. Mostly it was clothes and shoes and books and art supplies and such. I didn't know, at the time, what I was going to need. Essentially it was STUFF, right? Just stuff.
So I got to the family's house I was supposed to be an au pair with and I was there for only 3 weeks. That's a whole other story for another time. So I was in France, just shy of 21 years old, in a place where I knew no one, with no job, alone in a hotel room (with all my shit). I was going to a language school in Morlaix and the next class I went to, I explained my situation and later that day my professor called me and offered to let me stay with him and his wife until I got myself situated with a new plan. SO grateful for Erwan. So I lugged all my luggage to his place. Oh, and after I'd gotten there I'd acquired a guitar too. So 2 massive 70 pound suitcases, another carry on suitcase, a backpack, AND a guitar.
Where would we be in life without good friends? I mean, really. Friends are the best. Luckily, a friend had a friend who lives in France, albeit, on the other side of the country, but that was the closest option. So Morlaix is in the northeast, in Brest, close to England and I would be traveling to a little town right on the French-German border via train.
The route was to go from Morlaix to Paris, switch train stations in Paris in like 50 minutes, and then head east toward Germany.
The morning of my departure Erwan walked with me to the train station, meanwhile helping haul one of the suitcases and my guitar while I managed the rest, mind you, all uphill, panting and sweating to the train station. Upon arrival, there is no train coming because of an issue with the rails so, instead all passengers have to board this bus to take us to another station where we can catch the same train that they are holding for us.
Erwan bids me goodbye; I thank him for all his hospitality. And in his farewell, he mentions how his son went to America for a year abroad and all he took was his backpack. And then politely asked the bus driver to please, help this american girl to haul all her luggage to the train upon arrival at the station.
Sitting on the bus, staring out the window, raindrops appearing in my vision, gray skies soaking up all color of the landscape, slight panic begins to ensue. I was already worried about how I was going to transport my luggage all the way across Paris, but now I also had to lug it from the bus to the train under tight time. And Erwan's comment about how his son only needed a backpack for his adventure was tearing through my mind, ripping apart all notions I'd previously had about what I needed.
We arrive at the station, all the other passengers run to get to the train. I am alone with the bus driver who is so kindly helping me with my luggage, hurrying as quickly as we possibly can. Him - complaining about how heavy my bag is the whole way - through the parking lot, down the stairs, down the underground passage, back up the stairs and down to the train. The conductor standing there, encouraging us to "Hurry!"
Okay. I'm on the train. Phew. That alone was exhausting. I'm sweating. I'm stressed. I'm thinking "How the HELL am I supposed to get all my shit from Montparnasse to Gare de Lyon in 40 minutes?" That's impossible. Unless I take a taxi, which is going to be super expensive because my bags are so freaking heavy. I can't pay for a taxi, I have to take le metro. And I absolutely, positively cannot miss my connection otherwise I'll be stuck in Paris for the night and have to buy another train ticket.
What's my plan?
I have 2 hours on this train. Okay. I can consolidate everything I actually need and just leave, literally, everything else. I mean, someone will probably just find it, take it, and use whatever is in there, right?
That was my thought process. Honestly. And that's what I did. I kept my backpack, rearranged what I had in my carry on suitcase, meanwhile the lady across from me was watching me like a hawk.
I mean, I have to admit now that I probably looked pretty crazed. I was hurrying back and forth from my seat to where my luggage was stored on the train, transporting items back and forth like the crazy person that I am :)
When I felt that I had my life situated in my backpack, my carry on, and with my new trusty guitar, I was calm and confident that I was going to make this train, so help whoever is around me if I don't.
The train pulled into the station, I got off leaving behind my two big ass suitcases filled with what, a few days prior, had been important belongings to me. Now, they were just material items that could be replaced.
Of course, that's actually not true... there's a lot of things I still wish I had, to be honest, but then I remind myself that they're just material items and I have everything I need... but there was this sweater, and my red pants...I digress. You get the point.
I'm off, underground, frantic in the metro of Paris, trying to find my way, running around in circles, getting lost, acquiring many glances from cool, collected Parisians while I'm talking and mostly cursing to myself......
Yeah. Good times!
Anyhow. I make my train in the nick of time. I think by like 2 minutes, maybe 4 if I'm not exaggerating. And I'm on my way to meet Francois minus all the literal baggage. And maybe some figurative? Although I'm not sure. Probably not.
Oh yeah. BY THE WAY, it's my 21st birthday! That's why I remember the date so clearly...
Not that 21 means anything in France, I'd been enjoying beer and wine before the big date because, you know, they actually know what a drinking age should be. Anyhow. That evening I arrive at a lovely home, tucked away in the hills, welcomed with cheese and wine and good company.
So. That's my adventure where I learned that traveling with a lot of shit is NOT sustainable. It's stressful, it's hard, it's really unpleasant, people stare at you... it's just the worst. And I'm sharing this so that you can learn from my mistake and not leave your possessions on the train for fear of missing your connection.
How to decide what to bring?
First. Ask yourself some questions.
What activities will you be doing?
What sort of luggage are you taking?
That's a good place to start. So begin there.
Oh. DON'T PACK THE HOUR BEFORE YOU LEAVE.
Packing should be thought out, precise, functional.
Second. Just throw on your bed everything you think you want to take with you.
Organize it by items. So shirts in one area, pants in another, etc.
Spread it out so you can see everything.
Now. Ask yourself. What am I actually going to wear?
I know, personally, I tend to like to pack things that I normally don't wear, thinking that I'll wear them on vacation but, who am I kidding? I never wear it. I always end up wearing what I'm comfortable in.
Two Essential Questions
Yep. That's right. Ask yourself some more questions!
And by comfortable, I mean both genuine comfort as in, "These yoga pants are amazing" but, also, comfort in what makes you feel confident in yourself.
I don't know about you, but frantically running around the metro was stressful enough without having to worry about a malfunctioning wardrobe.
Do those pants give you wedgies too often? Then don't bring them.
Do those pants or leggings fall down too often? Then don't bring them.
Is that bra uncomfortable even though it's cute?
If you had to, could you run in those shoes?
Does that jacket actually keep you warm?
Now. Let me clarify. I'm not saying pack and wear only pajamas and sweats. Because you should look nice when you travel. That doesn't necessarily mean get dressed up in high heels or wear a tie. It means look and be put together, however that works for you. Point being: if you feel put together, you're going to have a much easier time dealing with any issues during your travel because you'll feel prepared.
Pick clothes and shoes that are functional, that look good, that you feel comfortable and confident in, and that are versatile wardrobe items.
That alone should narrow down your "want" packing list by a lot.
Now. Go back to the question: What bag are you taking? Try to fit all your stuff in that bag.
I'm guessing, on your first try that won't happen. It never does for me.
So once you've done your trial run on what fits and what doesn't fit, it's back to WANT VS. NEED.
Ah. What do we NEED? Okay. Re-evaluate here.
Again, revisit that question: Am I actually going to wear this?
Then ask: What can you substitute?
Maybe you have multiple sweaters or jackets. Is there one you could most likely live without? If you're packing a sweater for a certain other outfit, say a dress, then take out that sweater and that dress. Pick a dress that you can match with another sweater that matches pants you're bringing too, or whatever. You get the idea. There should be minimal items of clothing that are a solo outfit.
Bring all the underwear.
Yes. All the underwear! Pile it on! Because when you run out of underwear, that means LAUNDRY.
So the more underwear you have, the less often you will need to arrange your days while traveling to do laundry. Sometimes that means paying for it, sometimes that means waiting for the washer to be available, either way... it's kind of an inconvenience, so just bring a lot of underwear.
On the note of laundry. If you're planning on doing a big trip where you're gone for a while (which I highly recommend everyone do at some point in their life) if you aren't already used to it, you should get used to wearing items of clothing more than one time before you wash them. It's not gross unless your item of clothing is really gross. You should definitely still make time for laundry, but also be smart about it. Pants don't really get dirty that quickly. Without going into too much detail, just wear what you can for a reasonable amount of time before washing it. Make sense?
Even if you're not taking a big, long trip it's still really useful to re-wear items because you can pack less, and be smarter with you luggage space. It is precious!!! Don't waste it!
So hopefully that helps with a clear idea and strategy on how to decide what to bring with you on your next adventure, whatever that may be.
I'll be diving into packing techniques and how to optimize you luggage space in another post.
Thanks for reading! Post any comments or questions below.